Alomar a no-doubter for Hall call

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011, 7:29 PM [General]

    At the end of a phone interview with Roberto Alomar last May, I mentioned that I had voted for him in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot. I also told Alomar that I thought it was an injustice that he didn’t get enough votes to be inducted in 2010.

    “I thought so, too,” Alomar said.

    Alomar uttered the revealing sentence in a casual manner. There was no malice. Alomar knew he would eventually get in to the Hall and that a wrong would eventually be corrected. That happened on Wednesday as Alomar and Bert Blyleven both surpassed the required 75 percent of the vote.

    Since I have been a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for more than 10 years, I have the privilege of voting for the Hall of Fame. This year, I voted for Alomar, Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Tim Raines and Edgar Martinez. I spent considerable time analyzing the careers of Jeff Bagwell and Jack Morris and speaking with players from their eras before deciding not to vote for either. That analysis of Bagwell, Morris and the other candidates will continue.

    With the players who performed during the so-called Steroid Era now dotting the Hall of Fame ballot, the voting process has become more difficult. Other than the players who have tested positive for performance enhancing drugs or who have admitted using them, there is no way for voters to truly know if players cheated and artificially enhanced their numbers. That’s the dilemma that voters face as they try to determine if a player deserves baseball’s highest honor. Once a player is enshrined, there’s no way to remove the plaque from Cooperstown.

    Some voters have decided that it’s unfair to punish just a few players from the Steroid Era who have been caught cheating or who have admitted cheating. I have a difficult time giving credit to anyone who cheated or anyone who has been connected to cheating, regardless of what anyone else was doing at the time. My position on players from the Steroid Era is to dissect their statistics, but I also interview players from that era and then use that research to make individual decisions.

    After Bagwell received 41.7 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot, he said that he was “happy” to receive those votes. Bagwell, who hit 449 homers, drove in 1,529 runs and scored 1,517 runs in his career, added that, “Guys like me don’t get in easy.” Bagwell was referring to how he didn’t blast 500 homers and get 3,000 hits, milestones statistics that could have boosted his candidacy.

    I think Bagwell was a guinea pig for voters. Rafael Palmeiro failed a drug test so his 11 percent vote total wasn’t a shock. Mark McGwire wouldn’t answer questions about steroids at a Congressional hearing and admitted to using them last year, which is why he has never received more than 25 percent of the vote. Bagwell is a player who hit six Minor League homers and then developed into a power hitter, causing suspicion, fairly or unfairly, to follow him.

    “Suspicion is going to happen because of the era I played in,” Bagwell said. “Suspicion is ridiculous. Because I worked out? Come on.”

    If Bagwell is patient, he might eventually get into the Hall. Blyleven, who received 79.7 percent of the vote in his 14th year of eligibility, received 17.5 percent in his first season. Bagwell did much better than that in his first season.

    Remember how I said my analysis of the candidates will continue? It continued on Wednesday as I spoke with one of Bagwell’s former teammates. The player didn’t want his name used and didn’t want me to write about our conversation, but he gave me some pertinent information about Bagwell. That information will be part of my assessment as I make a decision about Bagwell in 2011.

    Voting for Alomar, one of the best second basemen ever, was an easy decision. Back in 1993, as Alomar was helping the Blue Jays win back-to-back championships, I asked him if he was the best player in the American League. Alomar paused. He didn’t want to appear cocky so he said he was “a complete player.” Yes, he was. Now, Alomar’s career is complete, too, because he is also a Hall of Famer.

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    Time well spent with a legend

    Monday, December 20, 2010, 10:31 AM [General]

    My interview with Bob Feller had lasted for about two hours and my notebook was stuffed with a few dozen gems. It was time to leave Progressive Field and head to the airport in Cleveland, but Feller wouldn't let me get near a cab. Instead, Feller insisted on driving me to the airport.

    No matter how strenuously I argued, Feller wouldn't listen. Can you imagine that scene? I tried to convince Feller that I should take a cab, but my words were meaningless to the Hall of Fame pitcher. He marched off to retrieve his car and told me exactly where to meet him outside the ballpark.

    When Feller died of leukemia at the age of 92 last Wednesday, I remembered how I had spent a couple of hours with him two years ago. He was blunt, intelligent and entertaining, a patriotic man who could and would talk about an array of topics. If there's a question Feller was hesitant to answer, I never figured out what it was. I doubt anyone else did, either.

    Why did I end up interviewing Feller? Since the 79th All-Star Game was being played at Yankee Stadium in 2008, I searched for some interesting story angles. I learned that Feller and Lonny Frey were the only two surviving players from the 1939 All-Star Game, which was the first time it had been played at the Stadium. That was a story. That was my story. I made plans to interview both men.

    On the day I met Feller, he escorted me into a conference room that was spacious enough to fit 50 people. Feller explained that the Indians routinely made this room available to him and made it seem as if it were his unofficial office. He wore a blue blazer that had a Hall of Fame patch on the left pocket.

    Talking to Feller was the equivalent of having a time machine. He faced Lou Gehrig, he knew Babe Ruth and he fought in World War II. He won his first game as a 17-year old with the Indians and finished with 266 victories, 279 complete games and three no-hitters. If Feller hadn't volunteered to serve in the Navy for 34 months, his superb statistics would have been gaudier.

    During our conversation, the only time Feller turned silent was after I handed him a copy of the box score from the 1939 All-Star Game. Feller notched the last 11 outs as the American League defeated the National League, 3-1. Feller peered at the names in the box score, names like Dickey, Greenberg and Ott, and said nothing for two minutes. Finally, Feller spoke.

    "Can I get a copy of this?," he asked.

    Sitting in Feller's passenger seat was an experience. He was 89 when he played chauffeur for me, but he drove a sports car. And he didn't drive it like someone who was out for a Sunday drive. Feller knew where the gas pedal was and he knew how to veer in and out of traffic, even if the highway wasn't that congested. I exhaled when he pulled up to the curb at the airport.

    Before I left Feller's car, he made me promise that I would mention his museum in Van Meter, Iowa, his hometown, and also asked that I mention his wife, Anne, in the article. Feller stressed that her name included an "e" and said that I shouldn't forget that. Of course, I remembered. Feller's personality made it easy to remember a lot of things.

    On the same day that Feller passed away, I learned that Steve Lefkowitz, a friend of mine, had also died. While my connection with Feller was limited to one day, my connection with Lefkowitz was much deeper. He was my agent, a title he disliked, and was the man who convinced me that I could make the transition from a baseball reporter at The New York Times to a baseball analyst at the YES Network.

    Although Steve didn't tell the same kind of baseball stories that Feller did, he told his share of interesting baseball stories. He was funny. In any of our conversations, I always laughed at least once. He was opinionated. He spent hours telling me how he would improve the Yankees. He was loyal. He would have driven me to the airport in Cleveland, too, even if we were both in New York. Goodbye, Steve. You will be missed.

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    In late-night shocker, Lee chooses Phillies

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010, 1:00 AM [General]

    As Monday morning became Monday afternoon and then Monday night, the Yankees had an uncomfortable feeling about their negotiations with Cliff Lee. The Yankees had offered the free-agent pitcher a contract that could have been worth about $150 million across seven years last Friday and were waiting for a response. Some Yankees executives were concerned about a mystery team that had joined them and the Rangers in pursuing Lee. 

    Before Monday night turned into Tuesday morning, the Yankees discovered that their concerns about a third team wooing Lee were valid. Lee spurned the Yankees and the Rangers to sign a five-year deal with the Phillies for a reported $120 million. Lee bypassed millions from the Yankees to return to the Phillies, a team he helped power to the World Series in 2009. It was a stunning ending to Lee’s free agency.

    Rarely does a premier free agent sign with the team that offers the smaller contract. Not only did Lee do that, but he also apparently had two better offers than the one he accepted. The Rangers had offered Lee a six-year deal for more than $130 million that included a vesting option for the seventh year. But Lee, who helped guide the Rangers to the 2010 World Series, didn’t want to stay in Texas and didn’t want to relocate to New York. Instead, Lee wanted to join Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt in a star-studded rotation in Philadelphia. 

    For several months, the Yankees have envisioned Lee pitching for them. Now the Yankees can stop imagining it, because it won’t happen. The Yankees were hopeful that making a lucrative offer and giving Lee the chance to presumably compete in the postseason on a routine basis would be enough to sway him to New York. After some fitful days of waiting, days in which the Phillies crept into the bidding in a serious way, Lee chose them over the Yankees and the Rangers.

    Because the Yankees failed to sign the pitcher who was the prize of the free-agent market, they will not have Lee and CC Sabathia, his close friend, at the top their rotation. Both pitchers have won Cy Young awards. Phil Hughes, who won 18 games in 2010, and A.J. Burnett, who had a disastrous season, will be in the rotation.  Andy Pettitte hasn’t officially announced if he will return or retire, but he told general manager Brian Cashman that he is leaning toward retirement. The Yankees need to convince Pettitte that they desperately need him to pitch in 2011.

    Without Lee, Cashman will need a Plan B or C to complete the rotation. While Zack Greinke of the Royals, another Cy Young Award winner, is available, the Yankees are wary of trying to add a pitcher who had included them on a no-trade list in his contract. As superb as Greinke is, he has battled social anxiety disorder and there are questions about how he would perform in an intense environment like New York.  The Yankees don’t view Greinke as a viable option.

    Cashman first targeted Lee in July and was willing to include Jesus Montero, the organization’s top Minor League prospect, in a deal to acquire him. But the Mariners traded Lee to the Rangers. Lee helped the Rangers defeat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Ever since the season ended, the Yankees have been extremely aggressive in pushing to sign Lee.

    Although the Yankees didn’t love the idea of offering seven years to a 32-year old pitcher who had back problems last season, they felt they needed to do that to outbid the competition. Lee was a free agent at a perfect time because he was much more talented than the next best starting pitcher. The longer Darek Braunecker, Lee’s agent, stretched out the negotiations, the higher the offers escalated. In the end, though, Lee didn’t choose the highest offer. He picked the Phillies. 

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter.

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    As Red Sox reload, Yanks await Lee's response

    Thursday, December 9, 2010, 6:47 PM [General]

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. –- During Brian Cashman’s conversation with Hal Steinbrenner on Thursday morning, Cashman told Steinbrenner that the Yankees were about to add a left-handed starter. Did that mean the team had finally signed Cliff Lee? Not yet. Cashman was referring to Robert Fish, the 22-year-old lefty the Yankees selected in the Rule 5 draft later that day.

    That was Cashman’s attempt at being playful and, ever so briefly, taking a respite from the questions about Lee. What Cashman didn’t disclose is how he surely talked to Steinbrenner about increasing the team’s offer to Lee to seven years, a move that came hours after the Red Sox agreed to a seven-year, $142 million contract with Carl Crawford. It is believed the Yankees are willing to pay Lee $161 million across seven years, which would match CC Sabathia’s deal.

    The Yankees are antsy about Lee, a pitcher they first tried to acquire in July and have been pursuing since early November. When the Yankees made Lee a six-year offer for about $140 million on Wednesday, there was a belief that they wouldn’t improve it. But, if Crawford and Jayson Werth could secure seven-year deals, the Yankees felt it was necessary to do the same with Lee.

    “I know what we’re willing to do,” Cashman said. “The player and his agent know what we’re willing to do. I can’t tell you if it’s two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years. We know. They know. That’s all that matters.”

    Since the Rangers, the other club that has been pursuing Lee, seemed reluctant to stretch beyond a five-year deal, would a seven-year offer clinch Lee’s signing? It would seem probable because no other team is likely to match the offer, but the Yankees were waiting on a response from Lee. Darek Braunecker, Lee’s agent, has been a deliberate negotiator, which has helped the offers escalate.    

    Jon Daniels, the Rangers’ general manager, declined to discuss any specifics, but looked somber as he invited reporters to “draw your own conclusions” about whether the team could compete with a seven-year offer. The Rangers were looking for answers from Lee on Thursday as team representatives traveled to Arkansas to meet with the pitcher. A baseball official said the Rangers were prepared to boost their offer to six years. But would the Rangers go to a seventh year?

    “We have to be concerned about seven years because seven years is really stretching it out,” Nolan Ryan, the Rangers’ president, told ESPN Radio. “And I don’t know how you predict how anyone is performing six or seven years from now.”

    As word about Crawford’s agreement with the Red Sox leaked out late Wednesday night, there were visible reactions at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel. A Red Sox official scampered across the lobby. Some fans screamed and gave each other high-fives. Reporters reached for their phones to try and confirm the news.

    About a half hour after the news broke, I found Cashman in the lobby. When I asked Cashman what he thought about Boston’s splashy signing, he shook his head. Cashman said the Red Sox had made major improvements and would be an even tougher rival. He reiterated those thoughts Thursday.

    “They’ve got a great team,” Cashman said. “They had two huge acquisitions. They’re loading up like they always do, but this is even more significant than a typical Red Sox reload. So they’ve done a great job so far.”

    Cashman had dinner with Crawford’s agents on Tuesday, which was a bluff and was probably designed to get the Red Sox to inflate their offer to the leftfielder. The Yankees never made an offer to Crawford, and Cashman conceded that the Yankees weren’t interested in signing him. The Red Sox made an offer to Mariano Rivera, who the Yankees then signed quickly, and they also made a seven-year offer to Lee. Cashman might have been returning the favor by feigning interest in Crawford.

    Although the Yankees added a seventh year to their Lee offer, Cashman insisted that he wasn’t impacted by what the Red Sox did with Crawford. Cashman has been on a mission to get Lee for a long time and, regardless of what happened with Crawford, that mission hasn’t changed. 

    “Our desire is the same today as it was prior to that signing,” Cashman said. “I don’t think you can increase [that desire] anymore. We have a significant interest in Cliff Lee and we communicated that. They know it.”

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    Yankees left in limbo with Lee

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010, 8:10 PM [General]

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – The Yankees intensified their pursuit of Cliff Lee on Wednesday by making a lucrative offer to the free agent pitcher. General Manager Brian Cashman disclosed that he had made the offer, but he wouldn’t be specific about it. The Yankees probably offered Lee a six-year deal for about $140 million.

    Soon after Darek Braunecker received the offer, he left the Winter Meetings and returned to Arkansas to meet with Lee. Was Braunecker’s departure a promising sign for the Yankees? The Yankees hope so. Cashman had been frustrated by the sluggish pace of the negotiations with Braunecker. Now Cashman and the Yankees will wait to hear from Lee.

    “This,” Cashman said, “is someone who is worth the wait.”

    Even though Braunecker officially received Cashman’s offer, he has known that the Yankees would likely be willing to offer six years for about $140 million because the two sides had discussed parameters. The Yankees’ offer is slightly more than Johan Santana’s six-year, $137.5 million package with the Mets in 2008.

    While several baseball officials believe the Yankees and the Rangers are the teams with the best chance to sign Lee, Braunecker said he has “significantly more” teams involved. There have been reports that two teams have made seven-year proposals to Lee, but no team has acknowledged making them. Cashman wouldn’t say if he believed Lee had any seven-year offers.

    Privately, the Yankees also believe that the quest for Lee is between them and the Rangers. Braunecker might have been meeting with other teams here to try and persuade the Yankees and the Rangers, the two favorites, to bid even more for Lee. An executive from one of Lee’s former teams said the Angels, who are poised to spend lavishly after a disappointing 2010, could also be lying “in the weeds” in pursuit of Lee.

    While Cashman has waded through the Lee negotiations, he has also shown some interest in Carl Crawford. Cashman had dinner with Crawford's agents on Tuesday, which could be interpreted as a bluff. When Cashman was asked about Crawford, he said that he has “cast a wide net” in his pursuit of players.

    Until the Lee situation is resolved, Cashman conceded that he is restricted in the moves that he can make. Cashman said that he feels like “Hannibal Lecter in a strait jacket right now waiting on this Cliff Lee thing.”

    The Yankees are also waiting on Andy Pettitte’s decision about 2011. Pettitte called Cashman on Wednesday and told the GM that he was still undecided retiring or pitching and stressed that he didn’t want to prevent the Yankees from making other personnel moves. It sounded like Pettitte was closer to retiring than pitching.

    “He’s not made a decision to retire,” Cashman said. “If I had to bet at some point, I think he’d play. He’s telling me right now he’s leaning the other way.”

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    Jeter back where he should be

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010, 8:59 PM [General]

    TAMPA – Ask Derek Jeter where he will be eating dinner and he might say, “A restaurant.” Ask Jeter where he plans to travel on vacation and he might say, “Someplace warm.” Ask Jeter to describe a conversation with a teammate, a conversation 50,000 people saw, and he might say, “I don’t remember it.” For Jeter, dispensing a modicum of information is a sound strategy.

    Throughout Jeter’s successful career, he has been the master at protecting his privacy. Jeter is politely evasive, routinely declining to discuss injuries, insults or innuendo. At the beginning of Jeter’s career, he decided that he never wanted his own words to create trouble. So Jeter has been selective about what he will discuss, a shrewd way to avoid controversies.

    But Jeter wasn’t able to keep his compelling negotiations with the Yankees from seeping into the news media, a development that annoyed him. When the Yankees formally announced Jeter’s new contract Tuesday, it took Jeter less than two minutes to cite how disappointed he was that some details of his talks had been publicized.

    “From my understanding, it was supposed to be a private negotiation,” Jeter said. “That wasn’t the case. So, yeah, I was angry that some things had gotten out, especially how things were portrayed because, from my understanding, it was a negotiation."

    Jeter agreed to a 3-year, $51 million contract that includes a fourth-year player option for $8 million. Before the sides settled on this deal, Jeter had been seeking a four or five year deal for about $23 million a year.  Jeter said he was perturbed with how he “was portrayed,” and that his reported salary requests were “pretty much inaccurate.” But Jeter also declined to reveal specifics about the negotiations.

    As careful as Jeter is about his words, it was notable that he expressed his disappointment in such a public manner. With Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, to Jeter’s left and General Manager Brian Cashman to Jeter’s right, the 36-year old shortstop offered his assessment of the negotiations. Jeter said it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. The Yankees seemingly concurred.

    “There’s no doubt there were times it was difficult,” Steinbrenner said. “Any negotiation can get messy.”

    These negotiations began to get tidier after Casey Close, Jeter’s agent, contacted Steinbrenner last week and the two sides met here. The Yankees emphasized how much they wanted Jeter and Jeter stressed how much he wanted to be a Yankee. The sides agreed to be creative in trying to eliminate the financial stalemate. Cashman said that resulted in Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, formulating the incentive package that was part of Jeter’s deal.

    “I think once we sat down face to face last week and really decided that enough was enough as far as the media and what was happening up there – that wasn’t good for anybody- we hammered it out,” Steinbrenner said.

    Cashman acknowledged there was “some turbulence” during the negotiations, but, unlike the wounded Jeter, Cashman likened the back-and-forth chatter to a family squabble.

    “Even brothers and sisters fight,” Cashman said. “But, at the end of the day, we all got where we wanted to be, which is him running out to play shortstop for us.”

    Jeter has always insisted that he is concerned with how the Yankees do and doesn’t focus on personal milestones. After Jeter allowed himself one day to talk about the negotiations, he would be wise to return to that same team-first approach. Forget about the personal gripes and get back to the team stuff. Jeter has probably already starting doing that.

    As Jeter explained how pleased he was to be a Yankee, he softened a bit and noted how there are “things that go back and forth” during negotiations.  Jeter said the only thing that would have upset him was if he wasn’t with the Yankees. That is a development no one could have envisioned, no matter how turbulent it got.

    “Of course I need the Yankees,” Jeter said. “And I’d like to think they need me as well.”

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    Yankees' pursuit of Lee continues

    Tuesday, December 7, 2010, 11:42 AM [General]

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – General manager Brian Cashman fired a football to Billy Eppler, his assistant, in the Yankees’ hotel suite on Monday. Eppler whipped it back as the two men shattered the rules about playing indoors with a ball and acted like kids for a few minutes. It was a brief respite from their serious offseason pursuit of a specific left-handed thrower.

    A few feet from where Cashman and Eppler imitated Drew Brees, the Yankees had laptops and piles of paper resting on a long table. Somewhere in that mix, there was undoubtedly information about Cliff Lee, not that the Yankees needed any updated information on a superb pitcher they are chasing.

    The Yankees have really been chasing Lee since July, when they thought they had acquired him from the Seattle Mariners. Now the Yankees have locked their focus on Lee at the winter meetings and seem prepared to give him a six-year contract. It is uncertain how much the Yankees are willing to pay him, but it is likely to be at least $140 million. The New York Post reported that the Yankees might go as high as $150 million.

    When I asked Cashman if he knew the maximum proposal that he would make to Lee, he said that he did. Of course, he wouldn’t reveal that amount during an interview on the YES Network, but the Yankees aren’t delusional about Lee’s hefty price tag. The Rangers are also pursuing Lee, although it seems unlikely that they will make a six-year offer. Cashman seems willing to do that.

    “We’re going to take advantage of the time frame while we’re down here, meeting with him as many times as necessary to make it hard for him to go anywhere but choose New York,” Cashman said.

    As Darek Braunecker, Lee’s agent, stood in the lobby of the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel on Monday, he was in a jovial mood. Why wouldn’t he be? Braunecker is representing the jewel of the free agent class, an elite pitcher in a free agent market that has no pitchers like him. The Yankees don’t want to have a Plan B if they fail to sign Lee because any Plan B would be a major disappointment.

    “It’s good to be Cliff Lee,” Braunecker said.

    Cashman met with Braunecker in his suite on Monday and will surely speak to the agent again on Tuesday. As part of Cashman’s courting of Lee, he visited the pitcher in Arkansas. Braunecker joked that Cashman “offered to come back as many times as necessary.” Perhaps Braunecker wasn’t joking. Maybe Cashman would rent an apartment in Lee’s home state if that helped him secure Lee.

    Two years ago, Cashman bolted from the winter meetings in Las Vegas and visited CC Sabathia at Sabathia’s home in California. Cashman said that he wasn’t going to leave until Sabathia had agreed to a contract, which Sabathia did when the Yankee offer mushroomed to seven years and $161 million. Sabathia later told teammates that he wasn’t expecting the Yankees to add a seventh year.

    I don’t think Cashman will offer Lee a seven-year contract, even though there has been speculation that another team might do that. But I don’t think the Yankees will have to offer Lee seven years to secure him. Several baseball executives agreed, saying that the Yankees will probably sign Lee to a six-year deal.

    As Cashman stood in his suite on Monday, I asked the GM if he thought Lee would sign a deal before the meetings ended on Thursday. Cashman wasn’t sure. Cashman said he would “love to be in a position to say, ‘Hey, Cliff Lee is going to be a New Yorker,” but he wouldn’t predict if that will happen. For now, Cashman is still chasing Lee, the pitcher he’s been chasing for a while.

    Follow Jack Curry on Twitter.

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    New Jeter deal includes creative fourth-year options

    Saturday, December 4, 2010, 6:20 PM [General]

    When the Yankees met with Derek Jeter last Tuesday, both sides promised to be creative in trying to bridge a gulf that existed in their contract negotiations. Less than a week later, that’s exactly what the Yankees and their shortstop did in finally agreeing to a deal Saturday. The deal is pending Jeter passing a physical.

    Jeter and the Yankees agreed to a three-year, $51 million contract that could also include a fourth year. Jeter has a player option for $8 million in the fourth year, which could boost his guaranteed money to $56 million. In addition, Jeter has the chance to earn up to $9 million in incentives in the fourth year.

    The deal averages to $17 million for the first three years, which includes a $3 million buyout in the fourth year. If Jeter doesn’t exercise the $8 million option in 2014, he will make $51 million. If Jeter exercises the $8 million option, he loses the $3 million buyout and is guaranteed $56 million over the life of the contract. But Jeter can increase his fourth-year salary by reaching some incentives. That is where the Yankees and Jeter got creative.

    Jeter’s contract includes a point system in which he earns points for winning the Most Valuable Player Award or finishing in the top six in the voting, for winning the Silver Slugger Award, for being named MVP in the World Series or the League Championship Series, or for winning the Gold Glove. If and when Jeter notches any of those incentives, he will earn an undisclosed amount of points. After three years, those points will translate to a dollar amount, which will be added to Jeter’s salary in 2014. Jeter can earn as much as $9 million in incentives, so the maximum amount he could earn in the final year of the deal is $17 million. The most Jeter could earn in all four years is $65 million.

    If Jeter doesn’t maximize the $9 million in incentives across the first three seasons, he also has the chance to earn points in the fourth year of the contract and therefore add to his $8 million salary. In addition, Jeter agreed to defer some money in the deal.

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    Jeter, Yanks agree on deal

    Saturday, December 4, 2010, 11:39 AM [General]

    Derek Jeter has officially agreed to a three-year contract with the Yankees for between $15 and $17 million a year, according to a person directly involved in the negotiations. The deal includes a fourth-year option that isn't a vesting or club option. The deal was consummated on Saturday afternoon and is pending a physical.

    The fourth year of the deal was important to Jeter, who said in spring training that he wanted to play four or five more seasons. But the Yankees didn’t want to guarantee a fourth year to Jeter, who had the worst season of his career when he batted .270 in 2010 and who will turn 37 years old in June. The sides vowed to be creative in trying to secure a deal, which is why they were finalizing a hybrid option that will include various elements and won’t be fully guaranteed. The sides met deep into the night on Friday and were talking again on Saturday.

    As part of Jeter’s deal, the Yankees have convinced the shortstop to defer an undisclosed amount of money. Mariano Rivera, who has agreed to a 2-year, $30 million deal, has also agreed to defer an undisclosed amount. The Yankees are confident that the contracts with their two legendary players will be completed by the time the Winter Meetings start in Orlando on Monday.

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    Promising signs on the Jeter front

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010, 7:35 PM [General]

    The meeting lasted about four hours on Tuesday night, hours in which the Yankees talked, Derek Jeter listened and then Jeter talked and the Yankees listened. While there has been contentiousness in the negotiations between two sides that need each other, this meeting was respectful and polite.

    Although Jeter and the Yankees didn't come close to an agreement on Tuesday, people who have been briefed on the discussion said it was a vital development in the negotiations. The meeting enabled the Yankees to reiterate that they wanted Jeter and allowed Jeter to reiterate that he wanted to finish his career as a Yankee. After the verbal sparring over Jeter's value, delivering those words face-to-face was important to igniting the stagnant talks.

    Casey Close, Jeter's agent, contacted Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees' managing general partner, on Tuesday to request the meeting. Before Close called, the sides hadn't formally negotiated in over three weeks. Close, Jeter and a lawyer from Creative Artists, the agency that represents Jeter, met with Steinbrenner, general manager Brian Cashman and Randy Levine, the Yankees' President in Tampa.

    The Yankees have offered Jeter a 3-year, $45 million contract, a proposal that they believe is strong and fair. At the time the Yankees made their offer to Jeter, who is 36, it would have made him the highest-paid middle infielder in the Major Leagues. Troy Tulowitzki has since signed a 7-year, $134 million extension with the Rockies, meaning he will earn $157 million across the next 10 years. That computes to an average salary of $15.7 million for a power-hitting shortstop who is a decade younger than Jeter.

    Following a sluggish season in which Jeter batted a career low .270 and had a career low on base percentage of .340, the Yankees feel they are compensating Jeter handsomely. Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins and Chase Utley of the Phillies, two of the premier middle infielders in baseball, have average salaries of about $12 million a year.

    When the Yankees have compared Jeter to current players like Ramirez and Utley, Close has argued that Jeter should be compared to Hall of Famers like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio because he has helped guide the team to five championships. Close mentioned the idea of a 6-year, $150 million deal, but Jeter is now asking for a 4 or 5-year deal for about $23 million a year.

    Since the Yankees have offered Jeter $15 million a year and Jeter has asked for $23 million, some observers have proposed that the sides should split the difference and settle on $19 million. The Yankees don't want to do that because they feel that they would be bidding against themselves. There hasn't been a team that has publicly expressed interest in signing Jeter. The Dodgers and Giants recently signed Juan Uribe and Miguel Tejada, respectively, as their shortstops. Also, the Yankees don't want to inflate their offer simply because Jeter's side has asked for such a lucrative salary.

    The Yankees are reluctant to increase their offer to Jeter, but it is possible that they would boost it slightly if that helped finalize a deal. As the parties separated on Tuesday, they agreed to be creative in trying to forge an agreement and agreed to speak again soon.

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    For Huff, relaxed attitude brings results

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010, 8:25 PM [General]

    John Flaherty doesn’t recall the exact time and the exact place of his conversation with Aubrey Huff, but he speculated that it happened in May of 2001. That was Huff’s first full season with Tampa Bay. Huff told Flaherty, a teammate who was in his tenth season in the major leagues, the new strategy for his career.

    At the time, Huff wasn’t hitting much and wasn’t talking much, either. Both of those facts belied the scouting report on a player who had a big swing and a big personality. Huff knew he could instantly change one of those things by simply opening his mouth. He wasn’t so sure about the other, about immediately becoming a better hitter. But Huff had to begin making alterations somewhere.

    “He told me that he was going to start being himself, and he was the type of guy who was the life of the party,” Flaherty recalled. “He didn’t know if he was going to make it in the big leagues, but, whatever happened, he was going to do it his way.”

    Soon after Huff’s declaration, Flaherty said, the reserved player was replaced by an animated player. Once Huff started behaving like himself instead of how he thought a Major Leaguer should act, he became more relaxed, more confident and more productive. Huff was always prepared as a player, Flaherty said, but he was savvy enough to lighten up because that made him comfortable. 

    As Flaherty watched Huff celebrate a World Series title with the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night, he thought about what Huff had said to him almost a decade ago. Huff, who was a fallback free-agent signing after the Giants didn’t sign Adam LaRoche or Nick Johnson, hit a pivotal two-run homer to help them win Game 4. The man who played in 1,479 regular-season games before playing in his first postseason games hit .294 and drove in four runs in the World Series.

    I was near Huff’s locker at San Francisco’s AT&T Park following the Giants’ 9-0 victory in Game 2 as he talked about how everyone had doubted them. At the time, Huff was wearing a red thong and holding two cans of light beer. The thong was nothing new. Huff first donned it in September and called it a “rally thong.” He wore the undergarment all the way to a championship. If he returns to San Francisco, my guess is that Huff’s thong will be back, too.

    When I mentioned that scene by Huff’s locker to Flaherty, my colleague at the YES Network, he initially said, “Thanks for the visual.” He laughed and added that the picture of Huff as a thong-wearing, beer-drinking quipster was appropriate. “That’s who he is. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

    Back on May 13, 2001, Huff was batting .153 with two homers and three runs batted in for Tampa Bay. Flaherty theorized that was around the time that Huff stopped being the silent guy and became more of the silly guy. Huff hit .264 with six homers over his last 99 games, proving his .287 average in 39 games in 2000 wasn’t a mirage.

    In 2002, the last season that Huff and Flaherty were teammates with Tampa Bay, Huff batted .313 with 23 homers. A year later, Huff had the best season of his career, hitting .311 with 34 homers and 107 RBIs. As talented as Huff was, Flaherty said the smartest move of Huff’s career might have been his decision to fail or succeed as himself, not as a semblance of himself. Huff succeeded. 

    “He wanted to do it his way,” Flaherty said. “I’m glad he did. Ten years later, he’s still in the big leagues, and now he’s got a World Series ring.”

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    After missing title with Yanks, Righetti returns to Series

    Thursday, October 28, 2010, 9:17 PM [General]

    SAN FRANCISCO –- He was 22 years old and was starting his first-ever World Series game for New York. He was anxious. Of course, he was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? It was the Yankees against the Dodgers in 1981, the third time in five seasons that those monoliths had met for the title.

    Twenty-nine years later, he can recall the pitches he threw and the pitches he shouldn’t have thrown. He can describe how he felt before, during and after a 5-4 loss. He still speaks wistfully about how he hoped to start again in the series, a start that never came because the Yankees lost in six games. Dave Righetti never pitched again in the World Series in his stellar career.

    “If you ask me if I remember it, I remember everything,” Righetti said. “You don’t forget those things.”

    A few hours before Righetti’s San Francisco Giants stomped the Texas Rangers, 9-0, in Game 2 of the World Series, the pitching coach stood beside third base and slipped into a time capsule. All it took was a few questions for Righetti to transport himself from 2010 to 1981 and to switch from a pitching coach to a pitcher.

    Righetti recalled how he began the game with two strikes to Davey Lopes, but the count drifted to 3-2 and Lopes doubled. Bill Russell pushed a bunt past Righetti for a single. The Dodgers pounced on Righetti, trying to rattle him. After Righetti collected two outs, he couldn’t stifle Ron Cey. Cey fouled off a 2-2 pitch and then another and then another. Finally, Cey smashed a three-run homer.

    “I remember I wasn’t very good,” Righetti said. “They caught me right away.”

    When Righetti allowed the first two Dodgers to reach base in the third, the Yankees didn’t trust him to preserve a 4-3 lead, and he was replaced by George Frazier. Righetti was blistered for three runs and five hits in two-plus innings and a 13.50 earned run average in the World Series. He never got a chance to lower that inflated ERA.

    There was a valuable lesson that Righetti learned from that game, a lesson that he can impart to young pitchers like Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. Since Righetti was born in San Jose, Calif., he said he was too excitable when he defeated the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series. After that experience, Righetti told himself to relax in the World Series. Relax, not detach.

    “I tried to calm down in that game,” Righetti said. “I almost went too far. Instead of letting my adrenaline carry me, I think I calmed down so much that I lost some aggressiveness.”

    Under Righetti’s tutelage, the Giants posted a 3.36 ERA this season, the best mark in the Major Leagues. Cain pitched powerfully into the eighth inning on Thursday to help embellish San Francisco’s already stout post-season statistics. Righetti’s pitchers have been even better in the postseason, compiling a 9-3 record, a 2.64 ERA and a strikeout per inning in 12 playoff games. The Giants, who need two wins for their first championship in 56 years, look much more relaxed than Righetti did in 1981.

    Since Righetti has Yankee roots, I wondered if he might be interested in their vacant pitching coach position.  Righetti, who has been the Giants’ pitching coach since 2000, said he is “happy here” and noted that he still has one year left on his contract. But Righetti didn’t deadbolt the door to the notion of ever returning to New York.

    “Anytime they have any kind of opening, someone asks me a question or calls me,” Righetti said. “It’s flattering. In this game, you never know, just as a coach or a player, you never cut off avenues of any kind. But I’m definitely a Giant right now. I’m very happy. I understand the question is obviously valid.”

    I reached out to General Manager Brian Cashman to ask about Righetti, but he declined to comment. That didn’t surprise me. Cashman is too smart to speak publicly about a coach who is under contract to another team. While it might seem prudent to make some phone calls about Righetti, the Yankees aren’t expected to do that because he’s signed through 2011 and he’s happy here.

    For 11 seasons, Righetti was a Yankee. He was the superb starter who threw a no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox on July 4, 1983 and became a closer a year later. He had 224 saves and 74 wins for New York. But Righetti never helped the Yankees return to the postseason, which still gnaws at him.    

    “There were a lot of expectations,” Righetti said. “There were a tremendous amount of players that went through there. We were always in flux. It was a tumultuous time, I guess.

    “During that era, a lot of the guys, you felt compelled to have to do this and do that,” Righetti continued. “We had to win, we had to win. The next thing you know, the 10 or 11 years were over with and I said, ‘My arm’s not the same and we didn’t get it done.’ I left there with an empty feeling.”

    Now Righetti is trying to fill that emptiness with the Giants, the coach trying to win the World Series that he didn’t win as a player.

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